This blog has finished its purpose

Greetings, dear readers! When I wrote the previous article in my classroom, it became clear to me that this blog has done everything that I wanted it to do. So it is done.

But I love writing and have started a new blog, and you are warmly invited to read it. Harleywoman Writes Again!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Getting My Classroom Ready: On the Other Side

It is done.

Last August as I set up my classroom, I knew that I wanted to remember this year, my last, and so I began writing this blog. The first article was about the ritual of setting up the classroom and making plans for the beginning of classes. Now, in June, I sit at my desk in an empty room to write this farewell; I have sorted through all the books, posters, files, boxes, cupboards and drawers and have packed everything away neatly. It is done.

The last few days have been hectic, with a flurry of recognition and celebrations, and some lovely surprises. It will take me awhile to sort through these events and I know I’m not ready to write about all of them. I am deeply appreciative of all the conversations I’ve shared and the people I am leaving behind. I will miss the lunches in Sarah’s room, the chats with Leanne in the hallway, and the routine of my early morning greeting to Dale when I retrieve my mail from the office and get my coffee from the cafeteria. I’ll miss all the friends I have made along the way.

I will miss the students, too – even the ones who couldn’t manage to sit still for longer than one minute and who perpetually lost all their important project work just before it was time to turn it in. I will miss those clowns who made me laugh in spite of the fact they were disrupting my lessons with their antics.

Student farewells I will cherish!

I will miss the excitement of getting a new idea to bring to class, a new way to make a project or a unit better, a new way to teach a concept. I will even miss having to get up early and go to work on the days when it was a struggle to wake up and get started.

I planned to sit in my classroom this one last time, alone, and be sad, and maybe cry at the ending of this amazing career I never expected to have. But as I sit here, looking around at the chairs piled up and the walls barren, it’s not as sad as I anticipated. I’m ready to leave this place; it was my choice to do this, and I’m good with that. The energy in this room is no longer mine, for I have taken it and packed it into boxes and brought it home.

That’s not to say that leaving won’t be hard; I still have to turn in my keys and walk out the doors for the last time. But this sadness is good and right, and the most meaningful experiences are always hard. My time here has been rich and rewarding.

A.A. Milne must have had me in mind when he wrote, “How lucky I am that it is hard to say goodbye.”

Posted in Celebrations, Retirement, school year calendar | 4 Comments

Two Thoughts: Two Surprises

As graduation nears, it's almost time to close the door to room 241 for the last time.

Helping to facilitate our eighth grade graduation this year is rather paradoxical: it’s simultaneously the same as always and very different from anything that has come before. It’s always hectic and chaotic when students learn that they can’t participate in graduation practices until the overdue books are returned to the library, the cafeteria bill is paid off, and all missing work is turned in. The range of emotions in our students races up and down minute by minute as they in turn feel excited and scared to leave the only school that many of them have ever attended – that part is the same. All students write graduation speeches; it gets them to reflect on their years here and helps them to prepare mentally and emotionally for the transition. We talk about what high school will be like for them – what are they worried about, what are they excited about, and what do they wonder about.  That’s the same, too.

Here’s where it got different for me: I realized during a class discussion about their future that many of the things my students wonder and worry about are the same things I’m thinking about, too, as I also prepare to leave the school I’ve been part of for nineteen years. It made for a dynamic conversation when the kids realized what we had in common. What will it be like not to come to this school anymore? Will I get lost?
How will my friendships change?  Am I ready?

Not going to school every day will, at first, likely feel like summer vacation; my husband and I will be traveling for awhile, so it might not be different until the late fall. What will that be like? I have no idea yet! I’m OK with it, though; I have plans to spend time writing, painting, reading, and maybe a business venture. Certainly my version of being lost is different from theirs; my kind of lost would be a floundering in place, spinning my wheels with no place to go. I don’t really think that will happen, but if I don’t have a project or a task in my head, if I have a day with no plan or new idea, I do tend to turn into a slug, and I worry a bit about how I can prevent that from happening.  I also know that my close friends will always remain in my life, while I expect that most colleagues will likely fade away eventually, and my life will take on new and different challenges that I don’t yet know about. Am I ready? I guess I’ll soon find out!  It doesn’t matter if I’m ready at this point — it’s happening, just like it is for the eighth graders, whether they are ready or not.

And so, this year’s graduation has taken on a certain personal symbolism for me. As I send off this last group of fledglings, I, too, will fly away from the nest. I think I will find some poetry to write in there somewhere, but not yet. It’s still too new.

I have one more surprise to share with you, dear readers; this one was embedded in an ordinary day. Friday was the last day of classes for the eighth graders; we talked about speeches, did a fun activity, cleaned out saved writing and binders, and then I spontaneously stopped their conversations with a question: “OK, everyone, you’ve been telling me how much you’ve loved having me as a teacher and how great it’s been and how much you’re going to miss me. And that’s all wonderful, but now I need you to put your money where your mouth is. I want to know what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from me?”

I have no idea what I expected to hear – when adolescents are in a hyper state of excitement it’s practically impossible to get them to think. But some students had some things to say that were profound. I wish I had thought to make a list of their answers, because I know I’ve forgotten some of them, but here is a representation as best I can recall:

  • I learned how to handle and use constructive criticism.
  • I learned that when I’m writing something and I get stuck, I can find ways to get past it and keep writing.
  • I learned to love poetry.
  • I learned that there are lots of different kinds of poetry.
  • I’ve learned that I can write good poems.
  • I learned that I love to write.
  • I learned about my personality type and now I know why I do some of the things that I do.
  • I learned to write from different points of view.
  • I learned that when I get an idea of what I want to write about, I can say it in different ways.
  • I learned that I can be a pretty good writer.
  • I learned that I’m good at expressing my own voice.
  • I’ve learned that I can say things in fewer words.

These comments gave me goose bumps. I wish that I had starting asking that question years ago so I could have kept a collection of the responses. Knowing what kids take with them when they leave my classroom is so meaningful, and satisfying.  Their words will stay with me, just as I hope that what they learned will stay with them.

I have always loved what William Butler Yeats said: “Education is the lighting of a fire, not the filling of a pail.” I think my students have told me that there may be some fires burning for them. Life is good.

Posted in Celebrations, Education, Educational philosophy, school year calendar, Writing | 2 Comments

Stop Whining and Just Get It Done!

This is how I feel!

The end of the school year is not only in sight, it’s in-my-face-close, and I am mentally not where I want to be. I had hoped that by now I would have most of the loose ends all tied up so that I could enjoy the last couple of weeks, but instead I am facing crazy, chaotic deadlines that loom menacingly ahead.

It started innocently enough on May 20 – eighth graders lost two class periods in order to work on a common assessment in writing. The following week was testing – it’s all part of No Child Left Behind, which meant that my students lost six more class periods. That Friday there was no school for students; it was a teacher workshop day. Then came Memorial Day and there was no school for anyone. But that week wasn’t even a four day week, because the next Friday no eighth graders had classes. Our school celebrates an annual Elementary Activity Day, a special program for all younger students, and our eighth graders traditionally work with the younger kids all day.

All this means that in the last three weeks, my eighth graders have missed a crazy number of class periods, and this coming week is their last week of classes. It makes me want to run away. I should have seen it coming and adjusted assignments accordingly, but for whatever reason, it took all of us by surprise and the whole teaching team is struggling to finish. I will have four days to complete the process of selecting which students are chosen to give speeches at graduation; it usually takes about two weeks. I also have a week to finish all the preparation and production for the eighth grade yearbook, and many hours of work are still needed in order to be done.

On top of all that, our whole end of the year routine is skewed much differently this year, and the change has me thrown off balance. Usually graduation is the last event of the school year, held on the evening of the last day of school. But this year, eighth graders are done with classes a full week before the rest of the school, and I need to be involved with graduation activities, so I may need to have a sub in my room for my seventh graders. How will that work? I honestly don’t know if I can keep my seventh graders on task and engaged in school after the eighth graders are gone.

I feel like I’m caught in a trap, the hamster running as fast as his little legs can carry him, and getting nowhere the whole time. I’m so caught up in this chaos that I can’t set my sights on the distant goal. It’s the same way at home, too – I’ve been madly cleaning out the garage, and the shed, putting things in order, and we’re going to have a very large yard sale next weekend, and I’ve driven myself to such exhaustion that I can hardly move.

Am I creating my own drama as a way to avoid thinking about the end of the year? I don’t know how I’m supposed to act or feel at this point, so maybe I’m regressing in order to have something else to think about.  I know that the week ahead will play itself out one way or another, and the next week will play itself out, too, and then it’ll all be good.

Meanwhile, friends, please let me know if I’m cranky, inappropriate, or misbehaved. I don’t want to go out badly!

Thanks for reading.


Hamster wheel on by sualk61
Posted in Education, No Child Left Behind, Retirement, Travel | Leave a comment

Moving Forward and Leaving Things Behind

We've towed our bikes behind the motor home for many thousands of miles.

My husband and I recently made a big decision. Very big. We have decided to sell our motorcycles. It was Doug who said it first, that his reaction time isn’t what it used to be, and I am grateful that he made that call. When you’re on a motorcycle, reaction time matters!

Doug bought his 1994 Harley Davidson motorcycle in the winter of 1995, before he even had a motorcycle license. The Harley dealership delivered it while there was still snow on the ground. He took the state motorcycle safety course as soon as he could, got his license, and we hit the road, with me riding on the back. At first we rode locally; New Hampshire has some great curvy roads, and it was fun to just go for rides around the countryside.

In 1997 we took his bike on our first cross-country road trip, and that was the beginning of many adventures that we both cherish. Before you get the wrong idea, though, I must confess: we towed his bike. While I have never been one for packing light, we had only a tent and a cooler for food in the car, and we both enjoyed camping. We didn’t get a lot of riding in that year, since we spent most of the time traveling from place to place. I keep a journal when we travel, and in looking back on that trip, out of 8,100 miles, we did only two motorcycle rides! The first one was in Red Lodge, Montana; we rode around town trying to find a friend. I wrote this about loading the bike back onto the trailer at the end of the day: “It was a nightmare, but hopefully we learned what not to do when we get to Sturgis. We didn’t have enough space behind the trailer to ride the bike into a straight line, and we couldn’t back it up ‘cause it was uphill. Doug ended up lifting the back end onto the plank after it fell off. It was very scary but we were successful in the end. Whew!”

Sturgis -- it's a legend!

Then we arrived in Sturgis, South Dakota, for our first rally; it was amazing, because it was all new. We attended many Sturgis rallies in subsequent years; it’s great fun, and great people watching, too! Here are the lines that I wrote in my journal that first year: “Bikers and noise filled the air everywhere/Gleaming steel, black leather/patches and pins/beards and jeans/And so many men showing off their true loves –/But which is it –/the machine or the woman?”

After that memorable cross country trip, Doug suggested that I get my motorcycle license. “If anything ever happened when we were out on the bike, you should know how to drive it, just in case.” That made sense to me, and so I agreed, although I never had any particular desire to learn. For Christmas that year, he paid for me to take the NH Motorcycle Safety Course, and I registered for a weekend in April. What a terrible weekend it turned out to be! The temperature was in the 40’s and it poured cold rain all weekend, with maybe a few brief intervals when the icy rain gave us a little bit of a break. Doug came out on both days to bring me dry socks and gloves, and I’d sit in his warm car to thaw out a little. Later he told me how impressed he was that I didn’t quit, but it had never occurred to me that quitting was an option. I passed the tests, and earned my motorcycle license. I loved riding my own motorcycle.

My first bike was a Hondamatic. My father-in-law had it stashed in a storage shed, and when I got my license, he gave it to me. It was a very tall motorcycle, though, and I dropped it more times than I could count, because my feet couldn’t rest flat on the ground while I was sitting on the seat. Then – one day when I came home from school, Doug said,  “You need a new motorcycle. It will be your Christmas gift this year, but we’ll get it now so you can get in some riding time before the weather cools.”  I was dumbfounded as we piled into the car and headed for Manchester.  “You can pick out anything in the store,” he said.  I still didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but we entered the Harley Davidson dealership and began the search.

My beautiful Harley 883

I knew I wanted an 883, the smallest bike made by Harley.  We did a quick walk-through first to see how many 883’s we would have to choose from.  “Here’s a dark green one, and over there is a brand new black one,” Doug pointed out.  A little more browsing revealed two more, a blue one and an older black one.  Now all I had to do was choose.

“Which one do you want?”  I glanced from bike to bike, and they all seemed wonderful.  This wasn’t going to be easy. On my third trip past the long row of the large, full-sized machines, a distinct customized motorcycle caught my eye.  It was low, and sexy, the black gas tank emblazoned with purple flames, with matching flames sewn into the black leather saddle.  It was beautiful, and on a closer look I saw that it was an 883.  Somehow we had missed it when we were first looking, but I knew instantly that this was the one I wanted.  It was shiny and sleek, slender and well balanced, and it was definitely my bike.

After that, we rode a lot. I loved being in my own saddle. I loved motorcycling.

We took many cross-country trips over the next years, and rode in many amazing places. In Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we drive through two herds of the biggest bison we have ever seen. We found easy parking when we rode the bikes to Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming, and it was fun to ride to Devil’s Tower. We rode through Yellowstone National Park and loved Cody, Wyoming, where we rode to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

North Dakota traffic jam. Normally I ride ahead of him, but when it comes to herds of buffalo, he breaks trail.

We’ve ridden several times through Badlands National Park, and also to Mount Rushmore, and Custer State Park  in South Dakota, where we encountered more herds of bison. We rode in the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally several times, and rode in pouring rain to Tatonka, Kevin Costner’s Bison and Interpretive Center in Deadwood, South Dakota. We rode through Gettysburg National Cemetery, and we rode to the Harley assembly plant in York, Pennsylvania – where my bike was actually manufactured. We also rode the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, and closer to home, the Kangamagus scenic highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, as well as Acadia National Park in Maine and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

This shot was take in Badlands National Park, 2001. Our best summer ever.

But the best of all was the summer of 2001, the year my son Geoff was married in South Dakota. We had been there years before he met his wife, and we loved the area, so when he and Kiersten planned their wedding for that summer, we were delighted that we’d be able to spend some extended time there. We put over 1,000 miles on our bikes in a month that year, and I felt like I could finally ride intuitively. Hairpin turns in the Black Hills became fun, and when I managed to successfully ride through the “officially closed” construction of Nemo Road, I knew I had really accomplished something important. It was muddy, and in places there was not even a road bed to follow. I was terrified, but I did it. Ever since, “Nemo Road” has become my mantra in times when I’m afraid. I did it. I was a real motorcycle master.

There are so many memories of our motorcycle adventures it’s hard to stop telling the stories here. And now we’re putting it behind us – and that’s OK; there are other things we’re looking forward to.  The timing of this decision is intertwined with my retirement, and needs to be acknowledged here. Of course we all know that nothing in life lasts forever. My husband and I have many great motorcycling adventures to remember, and I have to say I never in my wildest imagination ever believed that I would grow up to be a Harley-riding English teacher.

Life is good.

Posted in Aging, Family, Travel | 2 Comments

Working in the Garden and Preparing for the Final Stretch

Our weather has finally turned from cold and rainy to hot and sunny, and this weekend I have a three-day break from school. Memorial Day weekend is my traditional and favorite gardening time. Here in New Hampshire, it’s only now that we plant, confident that there will be no more nighttime frost. My rhododendrons have just formed noticeable buds, and my prized yellow azalea is starting to flower. (I was fortunate in April to have a preview of spring when I traveled to Virginia. Now I’m lucky again, and have a second springtime display!) This weekend, I’ll plant a few more perennials – we add some every year, and now that we’ve lived here for several years, the gardens are maturing, filling out and looking good.  Mulching the daylilies will be a big job this weekend, too, but then the yard should be in good shape as summer arrives. I generally have lots of energy for yard work and gardening until about the middle or end of July, and then I’m worn out and done, and more willing to let nature do its thing. Maybe that has been because August brings thoughts of back to school, and maybe once that is off my plate, I’ll be able to budget my energy better. Time will tell how that will play out.

When I’m not in school, I like the heat (as long as the humidity is reasonable), but my classroom can be unbearable. It’s not that bad yet, but I know it’s coming, and it has motivated me to sort and pack faster – to pick up my pace and get ‘er done. Now that I’m pretty much finished moving books, I’ve turned my eyes to the art supplies. On Thursday I managed to nearly fill the back of our truck, and on Friday I packed several more boxes. It’s amazing to see how much stuff I have accumulated in nineteen years, although my family probably wouldn’t be surprised.

I thought it was miraculous that all the books I brought home actually fit on proper shelves; I’m not so sure about the art materials, now that I have a little more perspective on how much there is. Block printing, watercolor, collage, scrapbooking, and most recently, oils – so many forms of art media have seized my interest over the years with creative possibilities! There’s lots of storage space in my classroom, so it was an easy solution to stash things at school since we live in a very tiny home.

On Tuesday I’ll be back at school, for the last stretch before the year is done. I think I’m ready. I find it quite fascinating how the process of savoring time and putting closure on my career during this school year has played itself out. I was truly worried in the fall that in June I would not be ready to leave behind what I have loved for so long.

Declaring something – naming it “out loud” – has so much power to transform and move forward an idea being considered. Writing about it – declaring it out loud — even the writing of things not directly associated with retirement – has made the difference.  I have learned much, and I am now looking forward to the freedom to do things that I have longed to do and to allow my thoughts to wander.

I have a mental list of things I’m looking forward to, and mostly it’s all about having more time. I’ve threatened to make a list of things I won’t miss – but I don’t really want to do that; I don’t need to complain because when it comes right down to it, it doesn’t matter. There are lots of things that I will miss: energizing conversations with adults and kids, for one. I love those conversations that include discovery and possibilities, and of course laughing. I think one of the hardest things about being retired will be not being with lots of people on a regular basis. I am still an introvert, there’s definitely no denying that, and that’s why I love gardening. In the garden I’m alone with my own thoughts while I play in the dirt and encourage beautiful flowers to bloom. But there’s always been a good balance in my life; being with people all day, and coming home, where it’s quiet, has always been a good thing. I’ll miss the other end of that teeter-totter.

I also know I’ll figure out how to feed that need, and I don’t have to know yet what that will be. Life is good.

Posted in Creativity, Retirement | Leave a comment

Chaos and Aha!

The end of the school year is hurtling towards me faster than I can manage to keep up. Friday morning, all the teacher mailboxes were bright purple with some kind of mass announcement, and when I looked at mine it stopped me in my tracks. It was an invitation to the end of year staff party for people who are retiring and also for those who are leaving the school, and there was my name right at the top. I hadn’t known it was coming, and it really took me by surprise. Sure, I had started thinking that there would be some kind of something, but I expected . . . well, I guess I don’t know what I expected. But – the retirement parties of the past have always been held at the very end of the year. This one is a full three weeks sooner. And I have a conflict that afternoon with an appointment that I will have to change . . . and . . . and . . . and now it’s more real.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful or crabby about it – that’s not it at all.  I think having this party before the end of school will make it a lot easier because it won’t really be a good-bye. And I’m not the only person leaving, so I won’t be the only one in the spotlight, and I’m truly grateful for that. And it’s lovely to be recognized – even though it will be hard to be the center of attention, and far better than no recognition at all. I have MUCH to be thankful for.

I had a big “Aha!” moment this week, when I was talking with a friend, and it has given me much to consider over the last few days. It’s about the stages of the grieving process. First introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, (I was only 18 then!) the work is about how we respond as human beings to significant loss. Suddenly I realized that I am passing through these stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In some additional research, I found that lists eighteen major life events that can cause grief, some of which are not necessarily “bad” things, and the list includes “retirement.” The web site does not discuss the stages of Kübler-Ross’ work, but does validate for me the emotional roller coaster I’ve been feeling, especially in recent days.

Even though I’m getting a lot done and checking things off my fairly lengthy to-do list, (all while still creating lesson plans and having a great time teaching students) I have been feeling stuck and depressed, and paralyzed about doing things that shouldn’t be difficult. I can feel myself pulling away from end-of-the-school-year conversations, and it fills me with sadness that those things I still care about no longer include me.

On the other hand, I’m excited that soon I’ll be free to do what I want when I want, to sit down and write no matter what day of the week it is or what time of the day it is, or to take advantage of good weather and go for a walk, or work in the garden in the middle of the day, any day. It’s a back and forth, up and down, in and out kind of thing; just when I think I’m on solid ground, there’s a little earthquake, like an invitation to a party, that shakes it all up. The blur of events passing so quickly is chaotic, but I know that mental chaos always leads to greater understanding, so it’s all good, right?

The invitation in my mailbox registered about a 6 on the Richter Scale, I think, because it represents more than a simple party. Maybe it’s the metaphor of the imminent reality that the ending is almost here. And while I’ve recently been trying to think of it more as a beginning, I know that I do need to recognize that it is an important ending to a time of my life that has held huge meaning to me.

It was because of my job that I met my husband, in the first year  – that was pretty huge. With his support and encouragement, I earned a masters degree in Creative Arts in Learning – that was really huge. I’ve received a few honors and had great opportunities along the way; I was a finalist for New Hampshire English Teacher of the Year in 2007 (that means I came in second) – that was pretty cool.  I was accepted into the Vietnam Teachers Network and spent a week in Washington, DC with other teachers from all over the world, meeting experts on the Vietnam war and the “Wall” – that was powerful and very huge.  I got to participate in a week-long symposium on Immigration that included a trip to New York City to visit Ellis Island and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, among other places. I have worked under some amazing principals who have encouraged me and challenged me and pushed me – and I will always be thankful for that.

Considering that I was a kid who was labeled “underachiever” in junior high school, I have been truly blessed. When I was the age of the students I teach, I didn’t know that I was smart; I had no idea of what the future would bring. It never occurred to me that I was capable of doing the things that I have done, and I have tried to instill in my students that they, too, can accomplish much more than they think possible.

Now the time has come for me to focus on the future. I have written a book about my teaching that is presently under consideration by a reputable publishing company, and I have more books in my head that I can’t wait to get started on. My husband and I will hit the road in July on a three-month road trip that will take us to places we want to revisit and places on our bucket lists we have not yet seen. After years of teaching middle school students how to find and celebrate their own creativity, it’s now time for me to play and celebrate my own creativity.

Life is good, even when it’s hard. Even when there’s a little blip on the Richter scale that knocks me off my feet.  And for all that, I am thankful.

Posted in Celebrations, Creativity, Retirement | 2 Comments